“Please See A Psychiatrist…”

That’s what the computer told my fiancee. “You have been classified as having the symptoms of being bipolar,” it continued. A friend of mine had recently taken an online diagnosis using the school’s health website. I felt it was bogus and told him so, but to drive the point home my fiancee and I decided to take the test ourselves.

We answered all of the questions from her point of view, but we didn’t do this in a, “let’s mess with the system” sort of way; we genuinely filled out the answers. I knew the diagnosis would be less than perfect when it simply consisted of multiply choice questions like

  1. I sometimes do this
  2. I always do this
  3. I do this every full moon

I don’t know about you, but when given surveys like that, none of the answers seem to fit me well. I always have to go with the “best fit”. And usually it’s more of a second order approximation. So, anyway, the computer told her she had better see a psychiatrist because she was displaying symptoms of bipolar. No one knows her better than me, except maybe her parents, and if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that she is NOT bipolar. She is definitely consistent in her moods, desires, and wants – as consistent as any “normal” human being.

The important thing to remember whenever you use a website such as www.mayoclinic.com or www.webmd.com to self-diagnose you have to remember that there is no good substitute for a doctor. Look at it this way, a doctor goes to school for quite a number of years beyond undergraduate before being able to open up a practice. Even then, the doctor is mostly guessing at what is wrong with you based on your symptoms. Many times it takes a few diagnosis before the doctor can know what’s wrong with you because nearly every disease has the same symptoms. Take it from someone who’s been a “victim” of these websites, use them only for researching a disease a doctor has told you that you have. Don’t use it to try to see what’s wrong with you or you will go crazy. Seriouly, you could have flu symptoms and it will look like you’re dying of ovarian cancer, even if you’re a guy. 😉 So how could a web page survey do much better at diagnosis? It cannot look for symptoms you don’t know to tell it about. A doctor and observe you and see what’s going on. A web site relies on your answers and biases. If you are a person who believes your are ill you will answer more negatively than a person who believes everything is alright.

And, of course, there are the weird algorithms because none of the answers we entered should have signalled bipolar. They were all consistent and normal.

Bottom line – don’t get freaked out for no reason until you see a doc.

Author: Eric Mesa

To find out a little more about me, see About Me